ANFERNEE “PENNY” HARDAWAY

Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, a two-time All-American and a four-time NBA All-Star during his playing days, is returning to his alma mater.

Hardaway, 47, was named University of Memphis men’s basketball coach in a March 20 press conference at the Laurie-Walton Family Basketball Center on the Park Avenue Campus. Hardaway becomes the school’s 19th coach and the third former Tiger player in the modern era (since WWII) to lead the program, following Wayne Yates (1974-79) and Larry Finch (1986-97).

Hardaway, who played for Finch, begins his first job as a college head coach after a successful run at East High School. East High won state titles in 2016, 2017 and 2018.  With Hardaway serving as head coach, the Mustangs defeated Whitehaven High for the 2018 Class AAA championship.

“This is truly a blessing,” Hardaway said. “I’m ready to get the team back to the glory days.”

In his first season, Hardaway led the Tigers to a 22-14 record and the program’s first postseason appearance in five years. The UofM reached the second round of the 2019 National Invitation Tournament, defeating San Diego in the opening round before falling to Creighton.

Before the NIT, the Tigers reached the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference Championship at FedExForum, beating Tulane and NCAA Tournament-participant UCF before losing, 61-58, to 11th-ranked Houston.

The loss to Houston was one of only three the Tigers suffered at FedExForum, where they went 18-3, including the three games in the conference tournament. The other two losses came to nationally ranked opponents: No. 3 Tennessee and No. 25 Cincinnati.

The excitement generated by Hardaway’s hiring led to a huge increase in attendance. The Tigers led the conference by averaging 15,106 per game, more than double the previous season’s average of 6,225.

During the season, Hardaway directed the Tigers to top-3 finishes in multiple league categories. The UofM finished first in scoring (80.1 points per game) and assists (15.4); second in field goal percentage (45.3); and third in steals (8.0 per game) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (32.2).

Hardaway’s initial team also produced one of three unanimous all-conference first-team selections in guard Jeremiah Martin. Martin tied for the league lead with a 19.7 points-per-game scoring average and ranked second in steals per game (2.2). Martin finished his career as the program’s No. 10 scorer (1,625 points) and became the first Tiger to score 40 or more points twice in a career.

In his two seasons, Hardaway led the team to a 43-23 record – including eight wins over nationally ranked schools — and directed the Tigers to two NCAA Tournament appearances, including an Elite Eight trip in 1992.

A two-time All-American and two-time Great Midwest Conference Player of the Year, Hardaway averaged 22.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 2.4 steals in 1992-93.  After his junior year, Hardaway declared for the NBA Draft and began a 14-year pro career with the Orlando Magic (1993-99), the Phoenix Suns (1999-2004), the New York Knicks (2004-06) and the Miami Heat (2007).

The No. 3 pick in the 1993 NBA Draft, Hardaway quickly rose to stardom with the Magic. He averaged 16.6 points, 6.6 assists and 5.4 rebounds in his first season and was named to the NBA All-Rookie Team.

The following two seasons with the Magic brought more success. During the 1994-95 season, he averaged 20.9 points and 7.2 assists, started the NBA All-Star Game and was named to the All-NBA First Team, while leading Orlando to the NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets. Hardaway averaged 25.5 points and eight assists in the series.

During the 1995-96 season, Hardaway averaged a career-best 21.7 points per game and 7.1 assists. He again was named All-NBA First Team and finished third in the league’s MVP voting.  After the season, he played on the U.S. Olympic basketball team that won a gold medal in Atlanta, Ga.

Hardaway started in the NBA All-Star Game the following two seasons. During the 1997 NBA playoffs, he had the distinction of becoming the first player to score 40 or more points in back-to-back games against a Pat Riley-coached team when he had 42 and 41 in consecutive outings against the Miami Heat.

Hardaway joined the Phoenix Suns to start the 1999-2000 season and averaged 16.9 points in 60 games and 20.3 points in nine playoff games.  After playing a full season for the Suns in 2001-02, he battled knee injuries throughout the remainder of his career, which included stops with the Knicks and the Heat.